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Events in telecommunications history


Peak call rates were abolished on 9 March and replaced by a new Daytime rate, operating Monday to Friday 8am to 6pm. For the first time since 1970, customers were able to make calls in the busy morning period without paying a premium. This was BT's biggest ever single price cut to date, saving customers an overall £350 million over a full year by making direct dialled calls to all UK destinations as cheap in the morning as they were in the afternoon.

BT introduced the Light User Scheme in February for customers who made few or no calls, but who might need a phone as a lifeline. The Scheme offered a rebate based on call bill size of up to more than 60 per cent of the line rental if no calls were made.

The maximum rebate, if no calls were made, was £16.38, reducing the quarterly rental charge to £10.24 - a saving of more than 60 per cent.

By 1998, when BT introduced the "no frills" BT In Contact service, more than three million customers had taken advantage of the Scheme, including many of those for whom the phone was a lifeline.

Directory enquiry charges for UK telephone numbers were reduced from 45p to 25p per enquiry on 1 September (see 1991 and 1998 entries).

The new National Long Distance Call charge band was introduced in September, abolishing the most expensive long distance charge rate and saving customers overall £244 million in a year.

BT launched a joint venture in Spain in April with Banco Santander as an equal partner. The new joint venture company was called BT Telecomunicaciones S.A. and offered managed network services in Spain, such as frame relay, Internet and virtual voice services.

BT took full control of the company by purchasing Banco Santander's 50 per cent shareholding in July 1997, by which time the company had developed a national network with an investment of 17,000 million Ptas. By then it had more than 1,000 corporate customers.

The last TXK crossbar exchange, at Droitwich, was withdrawn.

The British Approvals Board for Telecommunications (BABT) first issued its approval certificate for BT's bill metering systems, confirming that they meet BABT's stringent control requirements and Oftel's Standard for Public Telecommunications Operators' Meter Systems.

The certificate was renewed in February 1996 when BT remained the only telecommunications company in the UK to have received such approval.

BT's UK operation became the largest single organisation in the world to receive registration under the international quality standard ISO 9001.

This commitment to quality in all its activities was reaffirmed on 23 June when the UK's two leading independent quality auditors, The British Standards Institution (BSI) and Lloyd's Register Quality Assurance (LRQA), reissued BT with its Corporate ISO 9001 certificate.

This was the only certificate of its kind to be issued jointly by the two organisations, reflecting the huge range of BT activities that it covered. In effect, it was a summary of the 50 or so individual ISO 9000 certificates that had been granted to different parts of the business.

In 1996, the company was also a European Quality Award prize winner in its first year of entry.

Free fully itemised telephone bills were made available to residential customers to cover every single call.

The "It's Good to Talk" campaign was launched this year, featuring Bob Hoskins and the famous phrase, "It's Good to Talk". Directed by Hollywood's Ridley Scott, Hoskins appeared in 51 TV commercials, five voice-overs and 13 radio commercials until 1996.

BT announced in October that it had signed an agreement to sell its subsidiary, BT Marine Ltd, to Cable & Wireless (Marine) Ltd.

BT introduced the PremierLine discount scheme in June aimed at residential customers with call bills of £100 or more per quarter, although users could still benefit if their call bill fell as low as £40. The scheme entitled customers to;

  • a 15 per cent reduction in direct dialled local, regional, national and international calls.

  • a 10 per cent discount against basic rates on direct dialled calls, including BT Chargecard calls, to mobile or PCN phones, or to Information and Entertainment Services (previously known as Premium Rate Services).

  • 'TalkingPoints' which could be exchanged for free gifts from the PremierLine catalogue, or for AIR MILES at the rate of one AIR MILE award for every 10 points.

Customers received 500 free TalkingPoints when they joined, and one for each whole £1 that appeared on their phone bill (AIR MILES were no longer available for new customers to PremierLine from February 1999, although existing customers could continue to claim them for the duration of their PremierLine contract).

PremierLine cost £24 a year, initially payable annually, although from July 1 1996 it could be paid in four quarterly instalments of £6 each, with customers receiving monthly BT bills being able to pay in 12 monthly instalments of £2.

From 28 June 1995 PremierLine discounts, as with all BT's residential option packages, applied to calls made from any phone line at the same address, provided they appeared on the same bill.

From 1 October 1995, along with other BT discount schemes, the saving on calls to information and entertainment services, and calls made to mobile phones, was reduced to 5 per cent. This recognised that BT retained only part of the revenue from these calls and passed a substantial portion on to the other companies that provided these services. However, Friends & Family  customers could now include a mobile number as one of their nominated numbers for the first time, thereby gaining reduction in call charges to a mobile phone which from 1 April 1996 was increased from 5 to 10 per cent.

From 3 April 1997 PremierLine benefits were extended to include free membership of BT's Friends & Family Overseas discount package, which gave a discount of 10 per cent on calls to five international numbers. The improvement meant that PremierLine customers could enjoy combined discounts of 25 per cent off BT's basic call prices on their calls to up to six international numbers, and a total of 15 numbers in all if they were also on BT's free Friends & Family scheme. They could also receive the 15 per cent PremierLine discount on almost all their other calls (local, regional, national and international), all for the £6 per quarter PremierLine fee.

At the same time as the launch of PremierLine, BT announced the introduction of Business Choices, a discount package which offered five different levels of discounts for business lines in an office or site with combined direct dialled call bills of £75 or more per quarter.

The first such scheme of its kind in Europe, Business Choices offered savings for almost every kind of business on direct dialled calls. For UK direct dialled calls these were between 14 and 18 per cent on basic unit rate, depending on the Business Choices level adopted, plus an additional 3 per cent on most direct dialled international calls. Business Choices was a development of the Customer Options range of discount packages such as Option 40, Option 50 and Option 70, which it largely replaced. It was focused entirely on individual business sites, making the structure easier to understand.

The scheme was improved in June 1995 when the discounts available on direct dialled regional and national calls were increased by 3 per cent, bringing them into line with the discounts available for dialled international calls. By this time over half a million business customers were registered with the Business Choices level appropriate for the size of their phone bill.

The maximum saving possible was further increased with the introduction on 1 October 1996 of BT Business Connections, called Key Numbers from May 1996. This scheme gave a 5 per cent discount on direct dialled calls made to ten other numbers, and later a 10 per cent discount on an eleventh key contact number. It could be added to the discounts of up to 21 per cent available on Business Choices Levels 1 - 5, to provide a maximum possible 26 per cent saving on the qualifying calls.

In May 1996 BT announced a further series of enhancements to Business Choices to coincide with the launch of the discount package for very small businesses, BT Business Advantage. Overall, the improvements meant that the price of almost every call made by almost every UK business, no matter how small, could qualify for a tailored BT discount. The latest enhancements to Business Choices in particular meant that businesses were able to save between 27 per cent and 31 per cent on BT's basic regional, national and international call prices by the addition of a further 10 per cent to existing discount levels. They were also able to add 6 per cent to local call discounts, giving overall savings of between 20 per cent and 24 per cent. BT's Key Numbers discount package for customers' most frequently called numbers added another 5 per cent to the improved Business Choices savings for ten nominated numbers (and later a 10 per cent discount on an eleventh key contact number). Together, these schemes could have made total savings of up to 36 per cent possible on many calls. These improvements were estimated to save business customers £220 million a year, in addition to the £1.1 billion savings over the previous three years, including those for residential customers. This was the equivalent of a reduction of 18 per cent in the average business phone bill.

Yet more savings became possible for international calls with the launch of Key Countries discount scheme on 1 January 1998, and for UK calls with the launch on 1 April 1998 of the Key Cities and Key Regions schemes.

These schemes each gave a 15 per cent discount on business calls made up to ten nominated countries in the case of Key Countries, or on calls made to nominated cities or within the customer's own region respectively in the case of Key Cities and Key Regions.

These could be combined with other discount regions to make even more substantial savings. For example, Key Cities and Key Regions, when combined with Business Choices and Key Numbers, produced savings of up to 42 per cent. This meant that from 1 April 1998, for a business that already had BT Business Choices Level 1 and Key Numbers schemes, national daytime calls would have cost just 3.9p per minute with either Key Cities or Key Regions. This was an overall saving of 42 per cent on BT's basic price of 6.8p per minute.

BT introduced the Friends & Family discount scheme in February, aimed at residential customers. The scheme cost a single payment of £4.99 and entitled customers to a reduction of 5 per cent on any calls made to five selected numbers, one of which could be international.

Under Friends & Family Overseas, customers could also nominate up to five additional international numbers which received the 5 per cent Friends & Family discount, for a fee of £1 a quarter. It was free for PremierLine customers from April 1997.

From 28 June 1995, Friends & Family discounts applied to calls made using BT Chargecards to the five numbers nominated under the scheme and discounts from the packages applied to calls made from any phone line at the same address, providing they appeared on the same bill.

From 1 April 1996, a triple improvement was made to Friends & Family:

  • the discount was doubled to 10 per cent. This could be added to discounts of up to 15 per cent available on BT's other residential schemes, giving a possible 25 per cent saving on those calls.

  • The £4.99 joining fee was abolished at the same time.

  • Customers also had a sixth number, their own, added automatically to the scheme, extending the 10 per cent discount to calls they made home using a BT Chargecard.

The effect of these reductions, accompanied by extensive marketing, was to double membership of Friends & Family to five million in fewer than three months.

On 8 January 1997, by which time membership of Friends & Family had risen to nine million, BT announced that the numbers that could be nominated by customers under the scheme would be doubled to ten.

From 1 January 1998, BT introduced Friends & Family Country Calling Plans to give residential customers even bigger savings on calls to many countries. For a fee of just £1 a month customers could save 25 per cent on calls to a country of their choice, at all times. Customers could nominate up to five countries, paying the £1 monthly fee for each country. The saving could be combined with PremierLine and Friends & Family schemes to give discounts of more than 43 per cent on BT basic prices, for qualifying calls.

Also, from 1 May 1998, Friends & Family BestFriend was introduced, giving a 20 per cent reduction to one of the customer's ten specified numbers, in place of the usual ten per cent, so long as it was not an international or mobile number.

Friends & Family remained the leading and most flexible residential discount package at this time. Also available to BT ClickFree customers to reduce pay-as-you go Internet access charges, it could further be combined with other BT discount schemes to maximise savings. The most recent of these was BT Call & Save, announced on 5 January 1999. This scheme gave a 10 per cent discount on eligible calls to residential customers whose quarterly call bill was greater than £25. Eligible calls are direct dialled local, regional, national and international calls, including those calls made using a Chargecard and Ring Me Free card.

  BT and MCI Communication Corporation launched Newco as Concert Communications Services in June, a $1 billion joint venture company. This alliance gave BT and MCI a global network for providing end-to-end connectivity for advanced business services. Concert was the first company to provide a single source, broad portfolio of global communications services for multinational customers, and was the first of the large carrier alliances to secure all regulatory and other approvals. As part of the alliance, BT acquired a 20 per cent holding in MCI. Under the terms of the joint venture MCI and its distributors marketed Concert services in the Americas, while BT and its distributors marketed Concert services in other parts of the world.

By November 1998 Concert had become the world's leading provider of seamless global transborder communications services and had more than 4,400 customers in 52 countries. Around 40 per cent of Fortune Global 500 companies used Concert services, accounting for nearly $2.75 billion in committed contract revenue. Concert services were available from 47 distributors worldwide. In 1999, the Concert network had 6,000 nodes deployed in more than 800 cities across more than 50 countries, representing 90 per cent of worldwide business.

Headquartered in Reston, Virginia, Concert Communications Services developed advanced networking services for BT and its distributors to market to global companies throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia.

The Concert portfolio of services was based on intelligent network technology, offering a single point of accountability and consistent and seamless products via a single globally managed network. Concert Frame Relay Service , Concert Managed Bandwidth Service, Concert Virtual Network Service , Concert Inbound Service (a global voice service for call centres) and Concert Packet Services (a managed global data network, also providing remote user access to large host or LAN-based systems, dial up service and remote access to applications and databases of information providers) were among the global solutions the Concert distributors delivered.

Following the completion of a merger agreement between Worldcom and MCI in September 1998, BT acquired from MCI its 24.9 per cent interest in Concert Communications for £607 million . Now that BT wholly owned Concert, work was undertaken to ensure that the group's business would be fully independent of MCI. The costs involved in this work were estimated at £150 million over the two years to March 2000.

Call Return and Caller Display were launched on 22 November as part of the portfolio of Select Services available to UK customers connected to digital exchanges. Select Services were marketed as early as January 1982 as Star Services following the opening of the first System X digital exchange at Woodbridge, Suffolk in 1981. They became more widely available as the network was progressively modernised, ultimately becoming almost universal when the network became fully digital in 1998. The full range currently includes:

Caller Display: first trialled in December 1992, Caller Display allowed customers to see the number of the person calling them before they answered the telephone. The number was shown on a special unit or phone incorporating a display unit which could be rented or bought.

Call Return: enabled customers to find the telephone number of the last person to call them by dialing "1471". It was decided to offer this facility free permanently as part of the celebrations marking BT's tenth anniversary. By the end of May 1996 all Call Return customers could enjoy an improved service which gave the time and date of the last call, as well as the number, which could be returned automatically by simply dialing "3".

Callers could prevent their numbers being forwarded by dialling "141" before the number they were calling. This did not prevent the tracing of malicious calls through BT's internal Malicious Call Identification system, which BT operated with the police.

By only March 1996, the introduction of these two services had led to a reduction of 20 per cent in the number of obscene, offensive and malicious calls in the UK. By the same time around 12 million BT customers used Call Return each week, making an average six million calls to the service every day, in addition to the two and a quarter million customers who used other Select Services regularly.

Charge Advice: a free service which gave the approximate cost of a call immediately after a customer made it.

Reminder Call: allowed a phone to be programmed to ring back at the desired time as an alarm or a reminder.

Call Waiting: allowed customers to accept another incoming call while they are already speaking on the phone.

Three Way Calling: allowed a third person to join in a phone conversation, enabling customers to set up their own conference calls.

Call Diversion: diverted incoming calls to virtually any other telephone, including a mobile phone. The caller was charged only for their call to the customer's phone, and the customer paid for the diverted call to its new destination.

Call Barring: allowed customers to bar incoming calls from some types of numbers when they did not wish to be disturbed, and to bar all outgoing calls selectively, or calls to just certain other numbers such as international calls, in order to control their bill.

Call Minder: launched in May 1995, it provided customers with their own personal answering service from within the BT phone exchange. It replaced the usual telephone answering machine, and could record up to 30 incoming messages for customers even when they were using their own phone.

Call Sign: a new service launched in December 1998 and aimed at busy households, homeworkers, and small businesses. At a cost of £5 per quarter, BT Call Sign provided customers with an additional phone number on their existing line, which rang with a distinctive sound when called. They would know before answering the phone whether it was, for example, a personal or business call, a call for a different member of the family or for a flatmate. Other uses of BT Call Sign included the ability to identify between a fax or telephone call on the same line or the addition of a new number for customers with more than one business.

The BT Call Sign number could be listed in the local residential or business phone book.

BT and MCI launched Concert Virtual Network Service (Concert VNS) in November. Concert VNS was an advanced international virtual private network aimed at multi-national companies, and was the first such service to be launched. It enabled companies to establish seamless voice and data links between countries where the service was available. Customers could have access to features such as short code dialing, card services and faster call set up, normally available only on a private network. Concert VNS was based on intelligent network technology, which used centralised databases to control and manage calls across the network. It eliminated fixed costs and operational requirements associated with privately owned international networks, and featured a one-stop shop for installation, service and billing. Customers could call multilingual global customer service centres 24 hours a day seven days a week and could be billed for all global services in a choice of currencies and languages.

The service was swiftly expanded geographically to cover more countries, and a second generation of VNS value added features was launched in October 1995. This included Concert Audioconferencing (global private audio conference calls), Concert VNS Calling Card (cost efficient long distance calls when out of the office via either private or public dialing plans), Concert Remote Access (freedom from dedicated access to Concert VNS) and Concert Switched 656/64 Service (targeted at growing videoconferencing and document sharing applications). By May 1997, over 100 multinational customers had chosen the service to meet their global needs, including Unilever and Ford.

Internet use exploded this year. The first cyberbank, First Virtual, opened on the Internet, and in the USA Pizza Hut offered on-line pizza ordering through its Web page. Recognising the Internet's potential, BT launched BTnet, its Internet access service aimed at business customers and resellers, in December. BT provided connectivity via a high-speed transatlantic link to the United States, and to Europe through membership of EBONE (European Backbone). From November 1995, Internet Service Providers, resellers and Corporate Users were able to access BTnet via Concert Frame Relay Service. This service was later being used by around 50 ISPs and was available in Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and South Africa. BT later launched BT Internet, BT Click+ and BT ClickFree, Internet services aimed at residential customers and smaller businesses.

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